Intensive Seminar “Religion/Gender”

Guest lecturer: Professor Miri Rubin, School of History, Queen Mary University of London

Dates and time: 17–18 April 2023

Registration deadline: 10 April 2023

Venue: Tallinn University, Uus-Sadama 5, room M-649.

Credits: 1 ECTS

Language of the course: English

Hosting institutions: Tallinn University; Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts

Our work together will take the form of four encounters during which we will probe together the categories of religion and gender as they have met historically. I shall combine on these occasions: lecture, workshop, reading group – different formats of communication – each affording occasions for learning through concepts, with traces from the past (textual, visual, aural, material), led by perspectives arising between teacher and group.

Gender is a fundamental category of difference through which the past was lived and its histories written. There has been a particularly fruitful meeting of religion and gender for the production of new historical knowledge over at least the last 50 years. Yet our understanding of gender has changed, and is changing still. How do these changes affect our practice in the study of religion?

About guest lecturer:

Prof. Miri Rubin (born 1956) is a historian and Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London. She was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Cambridge, where she gained her doctorate and was later awarded a research fellowship and a post-doctoral research fellowship at Girton College. Rubin studies the social and religious history of Europe between 1100 and 1500, concentrating on the interactions between public rituals, power, gender, and community life. Her publications include Corpus Christi: the Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991), Gentile Tales; the Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary (London: Alan Lane, 2009), Very Short Introduction to the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), and Cities of Strangers. Making Lives in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).


Day 1 (Monday, 17 April 2023)


Gendered Religion: Do Men and Women Experience Religion Differently, Lecture, followed by Q&A

This introductory session will bring together the members of our group around their individual interests. It is an occasion to present the aims of the doctoral seminars and to plan the ways they can contribute to each of the participant’s aspirations.

The lecture will then begin a conversation about the study of religion through gender, based on two important interventions that still reverberate in the scholarship. It will also consider the shape of historical narratives, once gender is taken seriously. We will also reflect on the shape of sources presented by scholars and the challenges of gendering them.


  • Joan W. Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review 91(1986), pp. 1053-75.




Race and Gender? (Re)visiting Song of Songs 1:5. Workshop

This workshop will combine an introduction to Premodern Critical Race Theory (PCRT), with the discussion of a precise location in Jewish and Christian cultures, Song of Songs 1:5: ‘I am black and/but beautiful’. We will explore together, through a number of points in their development, the possibilities the verse offered for discussion of blackness.

Participants will be asked to read the Song of Songs and will be offered a number of commentaries on the verse translated into English from Greek, Latin and Hebrew. We will discuss these testimonies through and against PCRT, while also savouring the possibilities of appropriation and resistance evident in a poem like Countee Cullen’s.



  • Please write 250 words or one page about one of the concepts introduced in the reading, and the challenges it poses.

Day 2 (Tuesday, 18 April 2023)


Religion and Kinship: the Making of the Virgin Mary, Lecture, followed by Q&A

From Hebrew maiden to global icon, Mary – mother of Christ – has been central to most forms of Christian life. Two surahs in the Quran bear her name, and she was central to polemics between Jews and Christians.

The Lecture will explore in particular the possibilities afforded by the language of kinship: mother, sister, grandmother, so, father, brother, all of which play a role in symbolic articulation of power and gender, as well as in devotional content.

The lecture will exemplify the interwoven use of texts, images, and sound for the better understanding of how a figure travels across time, space, and social situation.


  • Miri Rubin, Mother of God. A History of the Virgin Mary, London: Alan Lane, 2009. Please read chapter 1 and choose another chapter that interests you, as well as the last.


  • Identify an image or object for initial presentation to the seminar, and for others to savour and discuss




Religion of Genders More Than Two: Reading Group based on assigned reading

Consideration of gender has been fundamental to the transformation of the Humanities in the later twentieth century and still forms the basis for much innovative work. Gender is fruitfully studied as a category of knowledge through which the world is understood and ordered. It also shapes experience, both collective and personal.

Gender helps us consider the making of lives and societies based on an imagined binary concept. The transgression of gender lines has been identified as a creative space for self-expression – through cross-dressing, in writing practices. Queer critique has critiqued such a binary configuration, and more recently trans-scholarship has cast into question the stability – biological, cultural – of male and female.

This reading session will introduce the group to some new concepts through scholarship in medieval studies. It will encourage reflection and critique through active contribution of all participants.


  • Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography, Alicia Spencer-Hall and Blake Gutt, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. All members of the group should read the introduction and one of the chapters that follow. 

Miri Rubin shall also offer office hours for the support of students.

Requirements for participation

Reading the required seminar texts is the prerequisite for participating in the course. All texts will be provided electronically to registered participants.

The maximum number of seminar participants is 18 and students will be notified of their acceptance to attend the course.

1 ECTS credit will be awarded upon participating in the seminar on both days and reading the required texts.

Participation in the course is free of charge. Accommodation and travel costs of the students of GSCSA will be reimbursed. If you have registered but are unable to attend you are required to let the organisers know.

Contact: Eva Kruuse,

The event is supported by the (European Union) European Regional Development Fund (Tallinn University’s ASTRA project, TLU TEE – Tallinn University as a promoter of intelligent lifestyle).